Lynne Featherstone

MP for Hornsey and Wood Green

my blog
Lynne's Parliament and Haringey Diary, established 2003

Haringey Council does it again

Another day, another mess up by Labour-run Haringey Council. In the past we’ve seen yellow lines painted days before the entire road was dug up and potholes filled days before resurfacing work. And they still haven’t learnt. This new roundabout below might look fine at first glance  (apart from the cones) but take a closer look at the arrows and which way they point.

Wrong way roundabout - Stapleton Hall Road, Stroud Green

It is, unfortunately, what we have come to expect from the Council. But there is a serious point here about both road safety, first and foremost, and about taxpayers money, too. All of these mistakes add up – and it’s the taxpayer that ultimately pays.

And if they can’t be trusted to get something as simple as this right – it makes you wonder about what else they’re messing up! Haringey needs fixing – and Labour clearly aren’t capable of doing it!

Tue 15 April 2014 Comments on this post (0)
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Labour’s control of Haringey Council must end!

Here’s my latest Ham and High column – on why Haringey Council needs to change. 

A few weeks ago, the Broadway exposed the cost of Haringey Council’s trip to Cannes in South France. It was three times more than the council originally stated. So, not only did they use taxpayers’ money for the jaunt, they didn’t tell us the truth about the cost, either.

This is just one of the reasons why I believe that Labour’s control of Haringey Council needs to end.

Those on the trip were two senior council officials and one Labour councillor – who is responsible for housing in the borough. They went to meet organisations like Tottenham Hotspur.

Residents are rightly angry – if Haringey has wanted to meet with Tottenham, they could have got on a W3 from outside the civic centre and saved the taxpayer thousands.

But despite the controversy and reaction, the Labour council leader (who authorised it all) is still defending the whole trip, and its cost to the public purse.

Unfortunately this kind of behaviour is what we have come to expect from Labour-run Haringey Council – ignoring residents, whilst providing bad services and wasting money.

Just a few months ago, we discovered that the council had authorised £3.7million in bonuses for housing staff at Homes for Haringey. At the same time, hundreds of residents were contacting me, and asking for help with getting decent repairs.

On the Noel Park estate – the area ‘represented’ by the Labour councillor who went on the trip – residents are in such desperate need, that I called a public meeting so that Haringey Council and Homes for Haringey could hear the problems first hand.

The Labour councillor declined the invitation to attend the public meeting – another let down for local residents he is supposed to represent.

The waste is not just confined to the housing sector. On our local roads, we’ve seen yellow lines repainted days before the entire road was dug up for resurfacing. Just last week the Labour-run council introduced a new roundabout, with the arrows painted the wrong way round. All of these mistakes add up – and it’s the taxpayer who ultimately pays.

There is another way. Labour’s control of the council is not absolute. And on May 22 this year, Haringey residents get the chance to vote Labour out.

The Haringey Lib Dems have been working hard all year round for residents, and will shortly be releasing their manifesto. It’s packed full of great proposals which would greatly improve our local services, our local area and our borough as a whole! And all of these would be funded by cutting Haringey Labour’s waste.

For me the choice – between a Labour party who have mismanaged our borough for 40 years, and the local Lib Dems, who want to work with residents to fix Haringey – is easy. I know who I’ll be voting for on May 22!

Mon 14 April 2014 Comments on this post (0)
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More action needed on reproductive rights for all

Here’s a recent blog about my work as a minister in the Department for International Development, also available on the Huffington Post.

Twenty years ago the world took an important step in agreeing that population is not just about measuring the numbers of people in the world, it is about the quality of lives of individuals and that every person counts. At the heart of this agreement was the recognition that gender equality should be a global priority, and that making decisions over your own body is a human right. Significantly this included the rights of women and girls to make decisions about their reproductive life free of discrimination, coercion and violence.

Since then we have made remarkable progress. Fewer women are dying in child birth, more girls are going to school, increased numbers of women are taking on roles in public office, there are more female entrepreneurs and less poverty. But significant challenges remain, and we are still a long way from achieving universal access to reproductive and sexual health and the realisation of reproductive rights for all.

2014-04-07-populationreproductivehea.jpg

Women queue to be registered for free family planning services in Malawi.
 

Globally there are 222million women who wish to space or delay the timing of births, but do not have access to modern forms of contraception. This has real and devastating consequences on their lives. In 2010, 800 women a day died from causes related to pregnancy or childbirth and in 2008 an estimated 8.7million young women aged 15 to 24 in developing countries resorted to unsafe abortions. All of this was preventable.

These figures are staggering and what makes it all the more astonishing is that after 20 years there is still so much resistance to women and girls having a right to decide what happens to their own bodies. Yet again this year progress at the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) was stalled by negotiations on wording around reproductive rights. While ultimately the event was successful, why after 20 years since the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and 58 years of the Commissions on the Status Women, are reproductive rights still being used as a bargaining tool in women and girls’ progress?

The successes of previous years have been hard fought and we cannot accept attempts to undermine them. Achieving gender equality means allowing individuals to make decisions over their bodies, and this doesn’t just mean through ensuring reproductive rights, but also by eliminating violence against girls and women and practices such as female genital mutilation and child early forced marriage.

This week I will be attending the Commission on Population and Development at the United Nations, as I did CSW, to not only to call on countries to uphold the commitments they made 20 years ago, but also to recognise that the world has changed since 1994, and emerging challenges also need to be addressed. It is not acceptable that each year 75million women and girls face an unintended pregnancy and that 22million are desperate enough to have an unsafe abortion despite the risks of the death, disability and, in many settings, imprisonment. For me the argument should not be about the rights and wrongs of abortion but about providing women and girls with the freedom and services so that they can make their own choices about their own lives without discrimination.

The Department for International Development (DfID) has taken a leadership role in committing to reproductive rights. Our International Family Planning Summit in 2012secured commitments to give 120million more women access to family planning helping to stop 200,000 women and girls from dying in pregnancy or childbirth and saving the lives of three million babies across the world’s poorest countries. By 2015 DfID alone will have given 10million women access to modern methods of family planning, enabling more women to delay their first pregnancy, as well as committing to providing increased skilled birth attendants, particularly for the poorest and most marginalised.

Reproductive rights should be guaranteed for all, without discrimination, otherwise we will not only fail to achieve the objectives of the ICPD, but also fail women, girls as well as men and boys, across the world.

Wed 9 April 2014 Comments on this post (0)
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Fighting crime in Haringey

Here’s my latest Muswell Flyer article, also available here.

When I’m out on the doorsteps or at my local constituency surgery – I often hear awful stories from people who have been victims of burglary or fraud, for instance. Crime does unfortunately affect the vast majority of people at some point in life.

On the whole, crime is currently falling – but we must remain vigilant. Figures recently revealed the Muswell Hill area to be in the top 10 UK ‘burglary hotspots’ – and other types of crime in the Wood Green area remain a concern to local residents.

But there are some things we can do to help.

The Haringey Liberal Democrats, for instance, have put together a fully-costed plan to replace Haringey’s old street lighting with new energy efficient LED street lights.

As well as reducing the Council’s electricity bills and helping the environment through lower electricity usage, the new lights will help to reduce crime and the fear of crime by making our streets brighter at night.

The Haringey Lib Dems want to cover all of Haringey’s street lights – provided of course they win the local elections in May and get the chance to introduce it!

The local Lib Dems and I have also teamed up with residents to fight for a replacement police base in Muswell Hill.

Having a police presence back on or around the Broadway would certainly make people feel a lot safer, and we have been working hard to find a suitable property. We hope to have some good news on this front very soon.

Lynne Featherstone MP and local campaigners (Michael Tiritas, Dave Beacham, Cara Jenkinson and Thomas Southern) discuss the new campaign with local residents

Thirdly, the Lib Dems and I have just launched a campaign to give local Special Constables a 50% discount on their Council Tax.

This campaign has already been supported by hundreds of local residents, and our Borough Commander Victor Olisa.

He said: “I am fully behind the proposal to give our Special Constables a 50% Council Tax discount. I think it would be a good reward for the current Specials, and it would encourage more people to sign up and volunteer to fight crime in Haringey.”

Special Constables have the same powers and responsibilities as regular police officers, and spend up to 16 hours a month volunteering with the police – all without pay – in order to help make our community safer.

We think these volunteers deserve to be rewarded for their hard work and assistance in tackling crime. And, if the Council Tax discount helps encourage more people to become Special Constables – increasing police presence on our streets – all the better!

Mon 7 April 2014 Comments on this post (0)
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Two same sex weddings – one happy politician!

Yesterday was just the best day ever.

You know you go into politics to make the world a better place – and yesterday that happened. The world is a better place today than it was – because two people who love each other can get married. Full stop!

The first wedding of the day for me was at 9.30 at Wood Green Civic Centre between two men who I have known for years – Subodh and Niranjan.

They have been together for over twenty years – and yesterday – I was there when they got married. Yes – I did cry. It was incredibly moving. Weddings are always moving – but this was both personal and historic. And additionally – because they come from an Asian background – it heightened even more the discrimination and rejections that they have come through to get to this day – with their mothers and family around them.

The second wedding of the day was quite a production – literally. It was the wedding of Benjamin and Nathan who had written and composed their entire wedding as a musical and wanted to share it with us all. It was held in the theatre at Alexandra Palace and as it will be screened on Monday night on Chanel 4 at 10pm – I will keep the surprise. Suffice to say that despite all the hoo ha and the celebs that surround a television production – this was still a wedding at its core and just as real and just as moving. In fact there is one bit that had me sobbing – but if you watch it on Monday you will probably be able to guess which bit.

This was definitely a day to remember – and the wonderful thing is – that it will now be every day from this day forward.

Sun 30 March 2014 Comments on this post (1)
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I’m going to two same sex weddings today!

The first wedding of the day is Subodh and Niranjan – who have been together forever – at the registry office in Wood Green. The second is at Alexandra Palace – Benjamin and Nathan. I am even wearing a frock! And I wish both couples and everyone else who is getting married today all the happiness in the world.

This really is an historic day!

Sat 29 March 2014 Comments on this post (1)
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Same sex marriage day tomorrow!

I am going to two weddings tomorrow – same sex weddings of course!

And whilst those who marry on this first day will be part of history – the real point is that from this day forward – people of the same sex can get married any day – and live happily ever after!

This will be such a landmark day for me too.

It’s been a long journey since I marched into my office at the Home Office and said to my civil servants ‘I am going to deliver same sex marriage – and I know it’s not in the Coalition agreement – but it needs doing’,

And the rest is history – literally.

If you use the find mechanism on my blog – and find ‘gay marriage’, ‘same sex marriage’ or ‘equal marriage’ you will see some of how this came to be. One day – when I am no longer a minister – I will be able to tell the whole story.

But all I really want to do here and now – is wish everyone who marries someone of the same sex exactly what I would wish couples of the opposite sex – all the joy and happiness that being married can bring to two human beings who love each other.

 

Fri 28 March 2014 Comments on this post (1)
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Violence against women and girls – at home and abroad

Here’s my latest Ham and High column on my work at home and abroad to protect women and girls from violence. Also available here.

Last week, I represented the UK at the UN Commission on the Status of Women. I have always been committed to tackling violence against women and girls – and since taking on a ministerial role in the Department for International Development, I have been able to make it a UK government priority.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have led to remarkable achievements in alleviating poverty over the last 15 years. But for all their good, the MDGs omitted a crucial element – a target for ending gender-based violence.

I’m proud that the coalition government is committed to the principle that every woman and girl has the right to live free from violence or the threat of violence. And that every woman and girl should be empowered to take control over her own life.

So in the post-2015 international development framework discussions at the UN Commission, we were focused on pushing for a stand-alone goal to empower girls and women and achieve gender equality. Within this, we are pushing for a target on eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls.

Over the last year, I have spearheaded a new multi-million pound programme to tackle one of the most extreme manifestations of gender-based violence – female genital mutilation (FGM). And because of this solid foundation of work and momentum, this July the prime minister will host a major summit to tackle FGM as well as early and forced marriage – both domestically and internationally.

Our aim is to get political and popular support to end early and forced marriage and FGM within a generation. An ambitious goal, but women’s rights campaigners have always been ambitious! And I believe this goal is achievable – but only if we work together and ramp up our efforts to support this African-led movement.

There is work to do in the UK, too. Young girls who live in the UK are sent abroad to be “cut”. It has been estimated more than 20,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk of FGM in the UK each year, and that 66,000 women in the UK are living with the consequences of FGM.

As the local MP in Haringey, I have called a roundtable – with officials from the local council, health services and police – in order to discuss an integrated strategy to protect girls in our borough.

Ending gender-based violence has been and will continue to be a long-fought struggle. This includes addressing the entrenched social norms and gender inequalities that drive violence against women and girls.

It will take time, and we’ve got a long road ahead. But I believe if we all, men and women, work hard enough together we really can create a world where women and girls no longer live in fear of violence.

Tue 25 March 2014 Comments on this post (0)
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Haringey Council’s latest housing scandal

Last week it was revealed that Labour-run Haringey Council spent over £3 million of taxpayers’ money repairing the High Road West area of Tottenham in 2011 – only to decide to demolish the properties two years later.

That’s right – In 2013, the Labour council decided they would demolish every one of these properties so Tottenham Hotspur can build ‘Wembley Way.’

This is, sadly, what people have come to expect of the Labour-run council. Noel Park Estate has been in desperate need of repairs for many years now, and yet the council has refused to invest in the area. Instead, the council spends our Council Tax on vanity projects like the Haringey People magazine, and on repairs for houses they want to demolish.

People in my Hornsey and Wood Green constituency, which covers Noel Park, deserve decent homes. So do people in Tottenham, and this appalling waste of money by the council is a slap in the face for everyone who has waited years for the council to repair their home.

I receive many hundreds of contacts from constituents who are in dire need of improvements to their council homes. The scale of the problem is huge – and it is not just an isolated problem in the east of Haringey; it covers the whole Borough from Highgate to Northumberland Park.

It’s another case of high council tax and poor services in Haringey. I will keep up the pressure on the council to provide the services that residents pay for and deserve. But after forty years in power, it is clear the Labour leadership has no effective strategy in providing quality housing to residents.

Mon 24 March 2014 Comments on this post (1)
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FGM

I gave an exclusive interview to Marie Woolf of the Sunday Times about an announcement I would be making about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) at the 57th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women in March 2013.

However, I wouldn’t give her the figure.

I kept that for the moment when I actually announced the UK new anti FGM funding from the platform at the UN to a hall full of hundreds of people. Campaigners and leaders from around the world on the issue of FGM had gathered to discuss this most extreme form of violence against women and this, I decided, was the right time and right place.

It’s over a year now since I made that announcement and launched a £35million fund to support the anti FGM African-led movement.

Twenty-five countries in Africa have now made it illegal. The African Union took a resolution to the UN just before December 2012 – and the UN resolution passed banning it world wide.

It had  the desired effect. I remember well waking up the morning after I had made the announcement to a text from the Evening Standard saying could I do an interview on FGM. So I phoned them, did the interview and  they did the rest. It is the publicity that has been our major partner in raising this issue.

I am very optimistic now that we are on our way now – joining hands with all the countries of the world – including in the UK – to end this harmful practise.

With the announcement from the Crown Prosecution Service this week that two men have been charged with FGM  and with the Prime Minister’s announcement that FGM and EFM (early and forced marriage) will be the subject of a huge world summit – The Girl Summit in July – all the tireless work of the campaigners who have worked away at this for years is now bearing fruit.

And these women – Nimko Ali and Efua Dorkeeno just two among them – have worked for years to bring us to this point. I remember Nimko coming to see me at the Home Office where I was before I moved to DFID. She was full of anger at the lack of prosecutions and the lack of action on this extreme form of violence against women – mutilation of women’s external sexual parts. I often now say (as there is absolutely no equivalence with male circumcision) that if this had been little boys having all or part of their penis cut off the practise wouldn’t have lasted four minutes let alone four thousand years!

And that meeting left its mark.

David Cameron appointed me as Ministerial Champion for tackling Violence Against Women and Girls overseas when I went to the Home Office in 2010 and I took this title with me when I moved to DFID (Department for International Development). I said almost the minute I arrived at DFID  – we are going to tackle FGM. It is my priority. It was always my view – with 20,000 girls at risk in the UK – that with the mother countries and our UK diaspora intrinsically linked – we would have to end it in Africa in order to end it here.

A huge amount is now going on in the UK as well as our international program. The Home Office with my colleague Liberal Democrat Norman Baker, is doing a prevalence study and has also won funding for our own community groups to apply for. The Department of Health, with Conservative Minister Jane Ellison has now announced that FGM will be coded. It didn’t exist in data previously. And that information will be collated at the Department. We have a number of FGM clinics. The Secretary of State for Education is writing to all schools and will also be issuing statutory guidelines on safeguarding and giving schools the tools and information they need. The Ministry of Justice is looking to see if we need any new legislation. And the Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, was saying that they were near to a prosecution – and now one is happening. And Norman Baker and I have met with faith leaders and David Laws (Schools Minister) and I have met with the teaching unions.

If I have learned anything over my time campaigning on FGM – it is that it takes everyone working together to address this.

But I want to pay tribute particularly to the media and encourage their continued support on this issue. Without them – we wouldn’t be at this point. So – huge thanks go to the Evening Standard for their massive campaign almost on a daily basis that has raised everyone’s in London’s awareness and then some; to the Sunday Times who carried the first and exclusive interview on what I was going to do in New York; to the Times who sent a reporter and photographer with me to Senegal, to Chanel 4, to the Guardian and most recently to congratulate BBC Radio London who spent a whole day practically on FGM.

I did an interview with them in the breakfast slot – but was then listening to the Vanessa Feltz program on my way to work where women (survivors) were phoning in with their own most personal and harrowing tales. I was crying. I suspect Vanessa was crying. Such brave women to tell their stories so that we might learn intimately of the abuse they have suffered.

There is an NSPCC FGM helpline if you know anybody who might be at risk or who has been affected and needs support. You can telephone 0800 028 3550 or email fgmhelp@nspcc.org.uk.

Sun 23 March 2014 Comments on this post (0)
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